Sometimes it would be so much easier if our pets could talk back. Wouldn't it though? The hardest question to get a clear answer on is whether "Lucky" is in pain. There are some ways to get an idea, even if I can't get a clear answer when I ask "where does it hurt girl?"
Fortunately our pets are giving us signals through behavioral cues all the time. A little yip might mean it's time for a walk, or an extra rub against the leg from my favorite feline could signal that it's dinnertime. By paying attention to changes in behavior, or when your pet no longer does the normal ones, we can learn a lot about what might be wrong with "Lucky".
The American Animal Hospital Association or AAHA has some great handouts for assessing pain in a dog or cat. Each of these fliers describes possible changes in posture, aggressiveness, activity level, facial expressions and other aspects of behavior that might indicate the presence of pain. Your pet might suddenly exhibit abnormal chewing habits, drastic weight gain or loss, start avoiding affection or handling, choose decreased movement and exercise, or even start having "accidents" in the house. These signs are described in more detail in the article entitled Clues to Detecting Fluffy and Fido's Painful Secrets also available on the AAHA website.
If you decide that the signals are loud and clear and you take your animal to the vet it is equally important that the DVMs and Technicians are assessing the pain level of the animals they are caring for.
In our Critical Care Unit here at VRCC Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital we have fliers that provide pictures of animal postures and descriptions of behavior as reminders of the levels of pain an animal might be experiencing. Each of the animals are assessed on their pain level and are given a score of 0-4. From that assessment the Veterinarian can make modifications in the animal's treatment plan to increase or decrease pain medication to keep the animal comfortable and aid in healing.
It is important to remember two things when it comes to pain in your animal:
First, you know your animal the best. The descriptions provided are guidelines to help you, but if your pet seems different and you're not sure what is going on, a trip to your family veterinarian might be necessary.
Second, do NOT give any over the counter human pain medications to your pet. NSAIDS - Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are a class of medications that include, but are not limited to, aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), and COX -2 inhibitors (Celebrex). All of these drugs can be toxic to dogs and cats and should never be administered at home. Veterinarians can prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medications that are safe for "Lucky".
The moral of the story....if things change, monitor for pain.